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Best Network Monitoring software of 2020

Network Monitoring Software Trends

Networking monitoring software provides a centralized dashboard for monitoring, managing, and organizing your network resources from a single location in real-time. By centralizing these functions, you and your organization will be better equipped to manage your network infrastructure and avoid costly downtimes.

The primary benefit of using networking monitoring software is gaining a more holistic understanding of network usage and health. Unlike traditional, decentralized network monitoring solutions, centralized networking monitoring software offers instantaneous snapshots of network infrastructure, devices, activity, and usage.

Beyond basic network management, network monitoring software has also become a preferred network security tool. Due to the costliness of system compromises and downtime, network monitoring software is quickly becoming a valuable – if not essential – investment for many security teams.

While network monitoring software may seem like a solution best suited for large enterprises, small- to mid-size IT operations can benefit as well. Even the smallest networks need monitoring and management, and network monitoring software makes it easier than ever—especially for IT teams short on staff and resources.

Why use networking monitoring software?

Networks aren’t as small as they used to be. With the advent of more diverse device types and the Internet of Things (IoT), networks are larger and more complex than ever before. As a result, network management isn’t what it used to be either; given their sheer size and complexity, today’s networks require networking monitoring software.

Networks are getting larger and more complex

The earliest enterprise networks were relatively simple—at least compared to those today. Instead of having hundreds of different devices connecting wirelessly to cloud-based network infrastructure, traditional networks typically employed desktop computers connected via ethernet cables.

In any case, traditional networks were much simpler than the networks we know today. As a result, monitoring traditional networks was also much simpler.

With their simple, wired connections and a relatively small number of devices, network administrators of the past had underwhelming jobs when it came to network monitoring. Even in the event of a compromise or system error, the problem could be dealt with by simply pulling a cable or manually reconfiguring network components.

Needless to say, those days are long gone; today’s networks are mostly wireless, and those still using wires are typically routed through a myriad of switches, routers, servers, and other network infrastructure—and that’s not even mentioning the Internet, virtualization, or cloud-based infrastructure.

In a sense, while our networks are more connected than ever before, they can sometimes feel disjointed or “ethereal;” where network connections were once easily traceable, we now need monitoring software to keep track of everything. Thankfully, we have network monitoring software to do this job—and then some.

Network monitoring software has become an essential network management tool

Any IT or security professional is likely familiar with the “CIA triad:” The three-way balance of Confidentiality, Integrity, and Availability. These are widely considered to be the three crucial factors to any network or IT deployment, with the factors usually represented as corners of a triangle.

The idea behind the CIA triad is that as one corner is prioritized, the other corners are given less of a priority. For example, if a network administrator wants to prioritize the Availability of their network and its resources, then that may come at the expense of Integrity and Confidentiality— after all, password protections, VPNs, and other security measures are only roadblocks to availability!

The same concept applies to the other corners. While certain technological limitations have made this balance a bit easier to strike in the past (or at least made compromise understandable), today’s users are a bit different; now, instead of waiting patiently for network access or resource availability, users want everything now.

As a result, the “Availability” corner of the CIA triad has become the highest priority of network administrators. The dilemma here, of course, is how to balance the ever-increasing demand of Availability with Confidentiality and Integrity—a dilemma only worsened by equally large demands of high Confidentiality and high Integrity.

With user demands pulling at all ends of the CIA triangle, network administrators are put in a difficult position. How can a network remain Available without compromising Confidentiality or Integrity? Further, what about system downtimes?

Unfortunately, downtimes and compromises are inevitable for any network; system failures are bound to happen, and enterprise networks are constant targets for cyberattacks. While these risks can’t be prevented, they can be mitigated—which is where network monitoring software can help.

Prevent (or reduce) costly downtimes

Every network experiences downtime. While some downtimes are scheduled and tightly controlled, others – such as in the event of a system failure or security breach – are not.

In any case, downtimes are expensive. Whether it’s high-volume e-commerce infrastructure or a crucial enterprise network, system downtimes can lose thousands of dollars (if not more) in a matter of minutes. For system administrators, scheduling downtimes for maintenance usually comes down to finding a time where system activity is low—typically in the middle of the night.

Unfortunately, many downtimes are unplanned. System failures or security breaches occurring during “on times” can bring workflows, productivity, and revenue to a grinding halt.

While these events are bound to happen, network monitoring software can help IT staff detect potential issues before it’s too late. By keeping a close eye on network infrastructure, network protocols, and device activity, network monitoring software allows staff to detect and isolate problems before they can affect the rest of the network.

Consider a somewhat “benign” example, such as a switch failure: If a switch starts to act unpredictably or fails, network monitoring software would be able to detect the change and its effect on surrounding systems. Using a real-time mapping interface, IT staff would be able to see the location of the failed switch and potentially reroute network traffic through other infrastructure—all from a single location.

This capability is also useful for other network interferences: Device failures, unusual network protocols, or any other change in activity are easily detected using network monitoring software, helping to minimize (if not prevent) unexpected downtimes.

View metrics from a single location

Complete, real-time network metrics are another major benefit of using network monitoring software. Here, network usage is tracked and updated at regular intervals, allowing you and your team to measure every aspect of your network.

This capability is especially useful for monitoring network health, which can sometimes provide warning signs of potential failures or breaches. For example, network metrics can sometimes help detect whether a network component (such as a switch or router) is acting unusually, or expose unusual network protocols and usage from unauthorized devices.

Some of the key metrics made available by network monitoring software include performance analysis, fault monitoring, network path analysis, availability monitoring, and more—all presented in a user-friendly dashboard. With these metrics at your disposal, you’ll be better equipped to measure network health and make proactive improvements to your infrastructure.

Map your entire network

One of the most popular benefits of network monitoring software is its mapping capabilities. Unlike traditional means of network “mapping” done through the command line or non-graphical software, network monitoring software provides a live, graphical interface of your network and its devices.

The mapping capabilities are useful in several ways. As discussed earlier on, network mapping can help identify problem areas exactly when (and where) they occur. By using a visual interface instead of pinging nearby devices, you’ll gain an instant and intuitive understanding of network problems and their impact, allowing you to troubleshoot before impacts spiral out of control.

Network mapping can also help you plan, grow, and optimize your network. By having your entire network mapped and measured, you’ll be better equipped to identify areas of improvement and plan better network solutions.

Like many of the features of network monitoring software, network mapping is typically automatic and performed in real-time. Sub-features of this includes automatic device discovery and mapping, link utilization, connectivity metrics, and more.

Diagnose and solve problems at their root—not just their symptoms

Network troubles can cause problems in unexpected places; faulty network components might make it seem like individual devices have connectivity issues, while deep-rooted security breaches can affect the network at various “random” points. The list, of course, goes on!

In any of these cases, it’s possible to waste hours addressing localized issues when the real problem is somewhere else on the network. While most major network issues cause widespread disruptions, some are more subtle, resulting in the occasional “goose chase” through the network to find their source.

Thankfully, network monitoring software can make this kind of troubleshooting somewhat more straightforward. Instead of addressing connectivity issues on an individual machine, for example, network monitoring software can help point IT staff to the root of the problem—such as a faulty connection or network device.

While this process differs between software packages, most packages offer some form of visual data correlation across multiple devices and stacks. By placing these key metrics on a shared timeline, you and your team will be able to pinpoint core network problems intuitively.

Plan and grow without the guesswork

Network monitoring software isn’t just for maintenance; it can also help you grow and plan your network.

Without some form of visualization, it can be difficult to understand how exactly your network is structured. Even the best documentation can fall short without mapping and thorough performance metrics— two key functions of network monitoring software.

Performance metrics deserve special consideration when it comes to planning your network. In many cases, network expansions are ordered for the sole purpose of increasing resources, speed, and other aspects of performance. Sometimes, however, the resources for doing so are already in the network but they’re not being allocated efficiently.

Through network monitoring software, you’ll be better equipped to pinpoint under- and over-utilized network resources. In these situations, increasing performance may only be a matter of reorganizing the network layout, allowing you to avoid expensive investments in equipment and installation.

Some network monitoring software can also help forecast usage, allowing you to dynamically allocate resources during peak times. With all of these capabilities at your disposal, network monitoring software can save your enterprise thousands of dollars just by reallocating what you already have.

Generally speaking: Manage your entire network intelligently and easily

Whether it’s identifying root problems, measuring usage, or reallocating network resources, networking monitoring software makes network management easier and more intelligent. By combining robust, real-time metrics with visual network mapping and management, network monitoring software gives you and your team the tools to plan, grow, and troubleshoot your network more efficiently.

Who uses network monitoring software?

From the previous section, it may seem like network monitoring software is primarily an IT tool—and that’s because it is. However, that doesn’t mean other areas and functions can’t (or don’t) benefit from using network monitoring software to augment their IT-related responsibilities.

IT Professionals and System Administrators

Network monitoring software is a clear fit for IT teams, specifically network engineers and system administrators. Even more generalized IT staff can benefit from using network monitoring software, especially those who are new to the field. Of course, that’s not to say network monitoring software is a “newbie” tool; instead, it’s only to emphasize that it’s an incredibly useful resource for everyone in the IT field.

As discussed earlier, IT professionals are tasked with upholding the “CIA triad:” the Confidentiality, Integrity, and Availability of their network. On a day-to-day basis, satisfying the triad means carefully allocating network resources without compromising network performance or security.

Traditionally, doing this task often came down to guesswork or “on-the-fly” adjustments. While there was always some form of top-down planning involved, these plans often fell short with new devices and changing usage.

With network monitoring software, however, IT teams can enjoy a new paradigm: Instead of planning top-down only once, teams can now enjoy real-time, top-down planning, maintenance, and management. Plus, with the many capabilities of network monitoring software, these same teams can automatically troubleshoot problems, dynamically reallocate resources, and track network usage—all without the guesswork.

Cybersecurity Teams

Network monitoring software can offer unique benefits to cybersecurity teams, many of which are (rightfully) considered a separate function from IT. Here, where IT deals with the “plumbing” of networks, cybersecurity teams monitor activity across the network and beyond.

On the network end of these monitoring activities, cybersecurity teams perform log review, active monitoring, and other network security tasks. For all of these and more, networking monitoring software can be a valuable tool for both experts and beginners alike; through intuitive visual interfaces, teams can directly identify compromised or suspicious devices, along with their effect on surrounding devices or network performance.

The benefits don’t stop there: Through thorough monitoring of network activity, network protocols, and system usage, cybersecurity teams can use the robust metrics of network monitoring software to track and identify even the most subtle threats or breaches.

Non-IT Staff/Users

Even those outside of IT and cybersecurity roles can use network monitoring software to their benefit. Thanks to easy and intuitive visual interfaces, even non-technical users can delegate many crucial IT tasks to network monitoring software.

This capability is especially appealing to business owners who need IT capabilities but don’t have the resources to hire an in-house IT staff. Even when IT consultants are a possibility, network monitoring software can help augment day-to-day IT tasks without the need for high-level technical skills.

Some analysts and consultants can enjoy a similar benefit. For example, a consultant hired to analyze an enterprise’s overall performance and cost-effectiveness could use network monitoring software to determine whether the equipment is being allocated as effectively as possible. Similarly, certain analytics roles may also benefit from the software’s real-time metrics and data visualization features.

Features

No matter the implementation, all network monitoring software should share the same core features.

Networking monitoring software should integrate with your existing devices. This feature should almost go without saying, but it’s crucial for reaping the benefits of network monitoring software. If your devices are somehow incompatible with your software of choice, then they might not be able to provide the software with key metrics.

However, this level of compatibility may not be as crucial for individual devices. In most cases, network monitoring software is capable of most network-facing devices, along with aspects of their resource usage and network activity. However, compatibility is non-negotiable for “core” network resources such as switches, routers, and servers.

This compatibility should also apply to different vendors. Be wary of network monitoring software exclusive to certain vendors; many modern networks are built from technology from a multitude of vendors.

Networking monitoring software should be compatible with most network protocols and sensors. Your software of choice needs to be capable of collecting crucial network data—after all, that’s its job! To do this, the network monitoring software you choose should cover most basic protocols such as SNMP, WMI, and ICMP, as well as basic network functions such as packet sniffing and data collection.

Network monitoring software should offer robust visualization and mapping. As mentioned earlier, mapping is a crucial component of network monitoring software. Assuming compatibility is a non-issue, your choice of network monitoring software should be capable of dynamically mapping all system components and devices.

Ideally, the map should be generated in real-time (or at regular intervals) and offer visual layouts and interfaces that are easy to read and understand.

By extension of this feature, monitoring software should also be capable of path mapping for individual devices. This feature is especially useful for cybersecurity teams performing forensics on individual devices.

Network monitoring software should offer thorough metrics and performance analysis. Monitoring system health and usage should be a key benefit of using network monitoring software. As a result, the software you use should provide you with thorough, real-time metrics related to your network.

While the metrics may be in real-time, their use shouldn’t be instantaneous; great network monitoring software should also be capable of performing analysis for metrics gathered over time. Through this capability, you’ll be better equipped to identify inefficiencies and core problems throughout the network, as well as forecast future usage.

Network monitoring software should perform thorough activity logging and alerting. After all, the whole point of network monitoring software is – you guessed it – to monitor the network!

While most systems have system logs (or “syslogs”), network monitoring software should be able to leverage these resources to perform further analysis. Further, network monitoring software should also be capable of identifying suspicious or unusual activity from these logs and produce an alert.

Of course, “suspicious” or “unusual” activity varies between networks. As a result, network monitoring software should have configurable alerting features, allowing IT staff to stay focused on key events.

FAQ

Q: What is network monitoring software?

A: Network monitoring software offers a set of tools for mapping, monitoring, and analyzing network usage and performance in real-time.

Q: What are the benefits of using a network monitoring tool?

A: In most cases, networking monitoring software helps streamline many aspects of network management through visual mapping. Here, instead of having to rely on pre-drawn plans or cumbersome analytics, IT teams can directly monitor network usage and faults from an intuitive, centralized source.

Network monitoring software can also help IT teams make the most of their existing infrastructure, potentially saving thousands in unnecessary investments.

Q: What are some popular network monitoring solutions?

A: Popular network monitoring solutions include SolarWinds, Datadog, and Atera.

Q: What is the most popular open source networking monitoring software?

A: Popular open-source networking monitoring software includes Nagios Core, Icinga, and Zabbix.

Q: What is the most popular free network monitoring software?

A: Many open-source network monitoring software packages are also free: Nagios Core, Icinga, and Zabbix are also popular in this category.

Q: Does network monitoring software offer remote network monitoring?

A: Most network monitoring software offers some form of remote access capability. However, administrators may want to temper permissions on remote devices.

Recap

Network monitoring software offers a robust set of tools for monitoring and analyzing networks. Through the use of real-time network mapping and performance metrics, you’ll gain a more thorough understanding of your network’s layout and day-to-day usage. With these insights, you’ll be able to allocate resources more efficiently, identify core problems, and better monitor network resources and usage.